Nov 22, 2005

Woman in charcoal

My friend Allal and I leave the cyber cafe and walk toward the Farrah. I'm thinking I should pay the guardien I yelled at earlier in the morning. Endlessly, it's about money in this city. He wanted something for watching the car. I said, 'look, I don't have anything. I would give it if I had it, but I don't.' Finally, he stands aside and flicks me off. Fuck you, I say.

You're too much like me, I'm thinking. Always, about the money and now I'm in the hell realms of my own obsessions.

We turn on the street where I had parked. Half way down the block we come upon a woman lying on the sidewalk, the top of her right shoulder against a parked car, her head thrown back in the gutter, just behind the front tire. Her left arm is stretched out, resting in a pool of blood. There's a wicked looking cut on her arm. The blood is turning dark in the sun. She looks to be in middle age, dressed in pants and mustard colored Moroccan shoes. There's something European about her. Later, I find out she's Czech.

She's lying outside a bar. A dozen people stand around. This is a poor street, across from the indoor marche on Boulevarde Mohammed V. I ask if somebody has called an ambulance. Heads shake. What about the police? Heads shake.

The woman is alive but breathing with difficulty. A waiter comes out and says she always comes around for a drink but she has no money. He also says she got angry when she couldn't get served, broke a glass and cut herself. She wants to die, he says. Let he be. These are the hell realms of my obsessions and lower self, my anger above all. I grab this man by his shirt, but I'm thinking what I'm doing. I may look out of control, but everything is measured, calculated. Thinking of it now, there was something theatrical underneath. I hold on to his shirt and tell him to call an ambulance. He shruggs his shoulder. I get out my phone and give it to Allal. He calls. I get the woman's head out of the gutter. I stroke her forehead. I'm looking at her upside down. Her eyes flutter. She makes a gasp as though she's going to throw up. I can smell the liquor now.

The blood is beginning to cake. I ask somebody for something to put her head on, a towel, a tablecloth. Shruggs all around. I'm thinking I should take off my coat. I'm thinking of my times with Terence, both of us competing to see who can be the most loving to the loveless. What was that about? I'm remembering the evening outside his election headquarters when I was opening his door, ever the footman, and he tells me instead to go help a man in a wheelchair to get inside his apartment building. I'd seen the man and I was just about to do that, but Terence catches me. This is our game. We're always at this same moment. Were we ever sincere? What are all the games two Irishmen can play with each other?

I take off my coat, fold it, and put it under the woman's head. I bought the coat a few weeks earlier at an outlet in Portland, Maine. It's a Polo, but not expensive. On the other hand, it's the only jacket I have. Everything is considered. But in the end, the coat is there, the woman is resting. She kisses my hand. I stroke her head. She's middle age. Her hair is black but looks dyed. The skin on the left side of her face looks as though it had once been burned. She goes through the dry heaves. She wants water. I ask for water. And then I begin to rant at the people standing around. Move on, I yell at them. Is this prophet's teaching, I yell. She's a drunk someone says, she always does this. So what, I say. We're always doing what we shouldn't do, I'm thinking. Get over it. The woman seems stable. She keeps pointing toward the bar, and in Arabic, insists she was pushed out the door.

Who pushed her, I ask. Heads shake. A few people disappear. I go in the bar. It's black dark. The bartender is the owner. He's the down and out bartender. Cigarette smoking itself in his mouth, sleeves rolled up, a week without a shave. You do this? I ask. He's got a half smile. Over his shoulder there's a patron, with a glass of wine, well to do. You do this? He shakes his head. Who did this? No answer. Are you a practicing muslim?

I ask because after all this is an Islamic country, 99 percent of the people are muslim, according to the interior minister we interviewed last week. Everything is hinged on that in this country. The laws, the monarchy, the whole assumption the country rests on.

I go after him looking for hypocracy. I'm high on self-righteousness. I'm think of Marc Klaas and the male longing in America, not for paradise, but for the moment when you can be angry with authorization. That's all any man wants. Just the stamped authorization to detonate. Could I never have a pure thought, could I never do anything without these filters? Could I never not double think the moment? I cannot. And here I am ranting away, asking them about the prophet. But would the prophet rant and rave?

Actually, he might. So maybe this is my home, after all.

The drama goes on. Act III. I find the security man, the bouncer. He looks like the bartender, only shorter, meaner. The woman on the sidewalk points at him. He's the man that did it. He shakes his head and drags on his cigarette. I tell him he's the insecurity man and if this woman were his mother, sister, wife, whomever... What would he do then? You let her lie in the street, wouldn't you? I say. You would. I know you would. Because you're heartless. Because the truth is, you don't give a damn about anybody.

The lot of you, I'm thinking.

But you're hollow, so calm down, I'm thinking to myself. You're no different. Get off your horse, get down here.

The woman, the drunken European, is dry heaving again. Somebody finds her sweater under the car. We put that under head. I get my coat on. She kisses my hands again and again. As much I suppose because I am touching her. Women aren't touched much in this society. That's why the hammam is so popular. Allal throws water in her face. Allal, I'm thinking, you don't have to do that. I get the water out of her eyes, massage her face for a moment.

When is the ambulance coming, I want to know. It's been 20 minutes. It's coming, somebody says. I see a woman 10 yards away. She's veiled, she smiles at me. We're in league. I have one on my side. Then a man come by holding on to a young girl, maybe 6. The man is toothless on one side. He spent 11 years in America. He's telling me these people are hopeless, this is Morocco. "We all hate each other," he tells me. "It's true, we do. There's nothing to do. We're lost."

I keep looking at my watch. I have to get out of the city. I have to be back in Ifrane in 4 hours. I don't have another moment. I make Allal promise he will stay with this woman until the ambulance arrives. I run off, literally, sprinting away all the way to the Farrah.